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March 2017

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writing carnival

it complicates the complication

Just for the record, blackholly is right again, as usual.

The "I'm too lazy to click a link" version: it's frankly misogynistic to identify a competent female protagonist as a "Mary Sue" because she's at the center of her story. She's at the center of her story because she's the goddamn protagonist.

Why is The Lord of the Rings about Frodo? Because he's the hobbit with the ring. If a different hobbit had had the ring, the book/trilogy would have been about a different hobbit.

When I pick up a book called The Great Gatsby or Anna Karenina or The World According to Garp, I'm pretty sure that Gatsby/Anna/Garp are going to be central to the narrative. This works for books with titles like The Wind-up Girl and Who Fears Death (a name, if you have not read it) and The Lies of Locke Lamora too. Hey, there's a name or an epithet in the title. Maybe this book is about this person!

So... if you find yourself uncomfortable with a lot of books by female authors, with female protagonists, and identifying a high percentage of those female as "Mary Sues," well... it is possible that the fault lies not in the protagonists, but in the reader*.

Sometimes a book is about a female character because there are female people in the world.

Crazy talk, I know, but there you go.



*This also applies if you find yourself often dismissing books with queer central characters as "slash."** Sometimes books are about gay people because gay people exist.

**If you are a slash fan, and trying to sell a book to your friends, letting them know it has the manlove is different. I'm talking about the "Straight boys need not read this because it has The Ghey in it" reviews. They say more about the reviewer than the book, is all I'm saying.

Comments

See, that's one of the biggest problems I have with the Harry Potter books, at least the last two, especially the last one. They turn into The Adventures Of The Weasley Family With Special Guest Star Harry Potter.

I can think of a number of books misleadingly titled after the heroine where a guy, or a bunch of guys, are the actual protagonists. I'm sure you can as well.
Yeah. And that annoys me too....
Though I've always considered Frodo a Mary Sue. Basically, I never saw a reason why the author seemed to think he was so awesome except that I kept being told how awesome he was (unlike, say, Sam, who was obviously acting awesomely because he, say, cooked dinner ;-))

The reason Mary Sue is a gendered term was because it was invented in a predominantly female environment. That is, it was women reading writings by women about female characters, so it referred to female characters. Wesley Crusher and the reaction to him I think demonstrates that the concept isn't inherently gendered, even in that fandom. Fundamentally, people don't like characters that the author likes more than we do.

It is absolutely misogynistic to apply different standards to male protagonists than female protagonists, but that doesn't mean we have to like glorified protagonists of any gender, especially when accompanied by tell over show writing. I tend to think we overrate books about male protagonists on general principle (this being The Great American Novel problem). It's part of why I'm a big fan of authors that write about ensembles of variable characters instead.
As far as I'm concerned, the whole point of Frodo is that he's ordinary.
I think it's true that the term is being used generally as a catch-all insult these days. The most recent occasion I read it was casually directed at Charlie Stross' Bob Howard, who is about as far away from the original definition that the term loses all referents, and I have no idea what it was supposed to mean.
Apparently these days it means "protagonist in a book by an author who for personal reasons I wish to insult, but I'm not actually a good enough critic to say anything substantive."
Apparently one of the main (male) characters in Living With Ghosts is both a Mary Sue and My Ideal Man, (per one reviewer). That was a headdesk moment for me, I have to say, as it told me so much about how that reviewer thought ('Women writers are Stupid! They only like Sparkly Things. They can't think of anything they're not in love with!'). And, y'know, he was so off base. (I might have a pet character. Maybe. But it isn't that one. Then again, a male reviewer once accused me of being secretly in love with the main subject of my PhD thesis... No woman can possibly be objective about a man: her hormones won't allow it, you know. Why, next they'll start thinking the have brains or something. (I may just be guilty of considering that latter reviewer as an a-hole, an opinion in which I am not alone.)
We don't get to win, alas. Those damn cooties are just so scary.
Nobody ever guesses my author-insertion characters without being told. *g*

But the two who are most like me are Elspeth Dunsany (come on, she's such an intentional Mary Sue! She's even named Elizabeth--and she had sparkly eyes! and everybody falls in love with her! And she's the world's smartest Canadian!) and Matthew Szczegielniak.

*g*

Matthew is really just me with a penis, a better build, and more magic powers. And different angst.

I love him so.
Ain't it funny how awesome female characters are Mary Sues, but(insert Bruce Willis character here) is an action hero?


...I sort of want meander into a defense of fluffy heroes and escapism at this point, but I don't think that comment is fully cooked yet. Anyway, thanks for posting this.
Or worse, Shia La Beouf. I get the girl and the robots and save the world for no reason at all.

Crazy talk? Not.

What it will be seen as in many of the quarters that need the teaching the most?

Unforgivable for being a Truth.

Tiredness brings out this kind of cranky in me sometimes.

Mary Sue: just FYI

Just FYI:

The term, "Mary Sue" was originally coined by Paula Smith and in a recent interview for TWC she discusses the origin of there term, what it means, etc.

Including the link in case anyone is interested...


Edited at 2011-08-08 02:30 am (UTC)

Re: Mary Sue: just FYI

Yup. And it has perfectly proper uses in fanfiction. But we're not talking about fanfiction, as Holly's post makes plain.
We have a winner.